Wrote Out Goals, Wrote Lyrics to "Goodies", Inspired by Songwriters, Selected discography
Youthful R&B vocalist Ciara (pronounced "Sierra") became an icon on the pop music scene in the summer of 2004. Her single "Goodies" spent seven weeks at No. 1 on pop charts, and its unsyncopated but subtly layered beats pounded out of sport-utility vehicles all over North America. A striking beauty with long hair and strong dance moves, Ciara quickly dispelled any idea that she was just a one-hit wonder. Her album Goodies, with lyrics that she mostly wrote herself, matched the success of its title track and spawned two more major hits. In 2005 Ciara went on tour with some of the biggest names in urban music, and she seemed a strong candidate to inherit the dance-pop niche long inhabited by Janet Jackson and Beyoncé Knowles.
Born on October 25, 1985, in Austin, Texas, Ciara Princess Harris grew up in a military family. Her father was in the United States Army, her mother in the Air Force, and their posting took her to New York, California, the desert southwest, and even Germany before the family settled in the Atlanta area. The "Dirty South" hip-hop music scene was taking shape in Atlanta when Ciara was young, but the tall and slender girl thought first of becoming a model. Attending North Clayton High School in Atlanta's southern suburbs, she was a member of the track team, competing in relays, the long jump, and the triple jump. She then moved to Riverdale High School and became the leader of the cheerleading squad. That decision paid dividends, Ciara told People: "I learned how to not get nervous in front of big crowds."
Wrote Out Goals
By the end of high school, Ciara had already decided what she wanted to do with her life. When she was a freshman in high school, she saw Knowles's group Destiny's Child performing live on ABC television's Good Morning America program. "It was this weird feeling: I want to do this. I'm going to do this," she told Nancy Miller of Entertainment Weekly. Where other young people might have stared at the television and dreamed, Ciara took action. She began writing songs, and she found a manager who landed her a gig writing songs at the up-and-coming Red Zone Entertainment studio. For a short time, after winning a contest, she performed with an all-girl group called Hearsay, but she soon went her own way. She wrote songs for the Washington, D.C.-born vocalist Mya, who was not much older than herself, and she kept aiming toward the goal of hearing her own music on the radio. Ciara wrote out her goals on a piece of paper at one point. "I wasn't into gossip or who was wearing what," she told Malcolm Venable of Interview. "I was like, 'I don't know about y'all, but I'm about to do something good with myself.'"
Her prediction came true when she met Atlanta producer Jazze Pha, whom she called her musical soul mate. In 2002 Ciara was signed to Jazze Pha's Sho' Nuff label, and that in turn provided the young singer with an entry point into the corridors of Atlanta's phenomenally successful urban hit-making machine. The producer felt that she filled a niche, telling Miller that "what was really lacking is the Janet Jackson, high-energy dance [music]. Ciara fills that void. She's pretty, she can dance, she can write music, and kids love her. Everyone loves her." Jazze Pha gave Ciara's demo recording to Arista Records head L.A. Reid, who in turn passed it on to Lil' Jon, the hot producer of the moment and a key figure in bringing the down-and-dirty hip-hop subgenre known as crunk to national popularity.
That was the key moment in propelling Ciara to national fame, for Lil' Jon in 2004 was the producer of the moment, giving crunk's heavy bass beats a lighter sheen that put them in dance clubs beyond those that favored the "Dirty South" sound. When Ciara's "Goodies" single was released in the summer of 2004, wrote Jason Birchmeier of the All Music Guide, "all it took was one listen to place the tune" for most urban listeners, "even if the singer was unknown—it's not a Ciara tune, it's a Lil' Jon one. You know, Lil' Jon, that red-hot producer with the simple yet infectiously booming bass beats and the clubby (even strip-clubby, dare say) singles that are more hook than song."
Wrote Lyrics to "Goodies"
Yet Ciara was much more than just a pretty face slotted into a producer's vision. The beat of "Goodies" was Lil' Jon's, but the lyrics, as with most of her songs, were her own. She was reluctant at first to work with the rhythm track the producer gave her, and in fact she disliked crunk music in the beginning. But that stimulated her to devise something that went slightly against the grain: in a hip-hop scene dominated by a confluence of sexuality and materialism, Ciara asserted in her lyrics that a fancy car and jewelry didn't mean an automatic gift of sexual favors. "It's something we [women] go through all the time," she told Steve Jones of USA Today. "You're at the mall and a guy pulls up in a Benz on 22s [22-inch wheel rims] and he's got the bling-bling chain and the blinged-out watch, and that makes it easy for you to leave with him. Actually, it's not." "If you're lookin' for the goodies, keep on lookin', 'cause they stay in the jar," Ciara sang, in contrast to the sexual promiscuity of which other female stars boasted. The song had a musically minimal feel, with repeated notes and even rhythms that complemented its chaste message. Touring on the Teen People Rock 'n' Shop Mall tour, Ciara quickly found legions of fans of both genders. "Goodies" shot to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 ranking and stayed there. The release of the Goodies album was threatened due to problems at her label, LaFace, but executives sensed something big in the making and kept it on the front burner.
Inspired by Songwriters
In the fast-moving genre terminology of urban music, Lil' Jon needed a new label to help Ciara stand out from the crowd, and he dubbed her the Queen of Crunk R&B. The label pointed to the smoothed-out dialect of crunk, more sung than rapped, in which Ciara specialized, but she pointed out to Kevin C. Johnson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that "the title 'queen' is something that has to be earned. How can you be the queen or princess of something like that? That comes with time. You have to prove it." Having crossed the first hurdle to stardom, Ciara didn't lose her ambitious edge; she listened to the music of durable figures like Janet Jackson in search of clues to their longevity. "I've always admired people who write their songs," she told Ebony. "I'm a big fan of Michael Jackson and Sam Cooke, and because I love their music so much it makes me want to do the research. I want to learn as much as I can about music."
She was off to a good start. Two more singles from the Goodies album, the dance-ready "1, 2 Step" (with an assist from established hip-hop star Missy Elliott) and the more sensual "Oh" (featuring Ludacris), emerged as big hits later in 2004; "Oh" was another No. 1 single, and the Goodies album topped out at Number Three. The high-powered guest artists testified to industry expectations that Ciara was an emerging star, as did her appearance on a hip-hop tour in 2005 featuring superstar 50 Cent. Ciara beat back a bizarre Internet rumor that she was a transsexual or hermaphrodite; her detractors had her confused with another Ciara. She was romantically linked with the youthful rapper Bow Wow that year, and she was still stretching to find the limits of her musical creativity and ambition. "I've always been like 'Go get it,'" she told Miller. "If there was a pair of shoes I wanted, I was gonna get 'em. Some way, somehow." She made Entertainment Weekly's list of the best new talent of 2005, yet another indication that the best was yet to come.
Goodies, LaFace, 2004.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 9, 2004, p. P9.
Daily News (Los Angeles), May 13, 2005, p. U21.
Ebony, June 2005, p. 28.
Entertainment Weekly, July 22, 2005, p. 38; December 30, 2005, p. 94.
Interview, May 2004, p. 52; July 2005, p. 74.
People, October 18, 2004, p. 132.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 25, 2005, p. 5.
"Ciara," All Music, www.allmusic.com (December 31, 2005).
"In the Bag with 'Goodies' Mix," USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2004-07-26-ciaraverge_x.htm (December 31, 2005).